It’s an understatement to say that the most challenging divorces are those involving children. Determining who the children will live and spend time with can take an already-fraught situation and make it that much more volatile. The state of Pennsylvania has created laws and processes specifically designed to ensure that the disposition of child custody following a separation and divorce is based on what is in the best interest of the child: though it is in everybody’s interest for both parents to agree on an outcome, the question of what is best for the child will always be the guiding force, and the courts consider numerous factors in making that determination.
Parents in Pennsylvania are often asked to go through counseling when custody is being considered, with an eye to getting professional advice regarding each parents’ interests and ability to provide care for the child, as well as their willingness to participate in co-parenting. The input of these counselors can be of value to the court. Other factors that will be taken into account include what the child’s preferences are if they are able and mature enough to express a wish, which of the two parents is most likely to make a real effort towards the child having a continuing and positive relationship with the other parent, and whether there is a history of abuse or criminal convictions.
Once all factors are considered, child custody will either be established as one parent has sole custody or joint custody is shared between the two parents. In the case of sole custody, the parent who the court views as providing the greatest benefit for the child will be the custodial parent, and in joint custody, the child will spend time with both parents. A custody agreement will be written up to include information on how the custody will be shared, who will have which days, holidays and vacation time, and whether one parent will be considered the primary custodial parent or whether legal custody will be shared.
Beyond agreements made during the time of the parents’ divorce, the subject of child custody can be revisited at any time. This is particularly common if a parent plans to move out of state and hopes to take the child with them. In these circumstances, the court will again consider the same factors and what is in the child’s best interests.
If you need assistance in addressing the difficult issues of child custody or any other aspect of a divorce, contact our office to set up an appointment to speak with one of our compassionate attorneys.